"Hello! I need some advice please! I try to eat healthy and work out on a regular basis, but I constantly eat when I am bored, even though I am not hungry. I get bored and keep wandering into the kitchen and grabbing all kinds of snacks. How do I stop this habit?"
While there are many diverse reasons for overeating, boredom eating is surprisingly common. Research has reported that almost half of all adults sometimes turn to food to stifle feelings of boredom or to manage a negative mood. Most people realize that food is only a temporary distraction from boredom and not a cure. So, if you boredom eat every now and then, don't be too hard on yourself. However, if boredom eating has become a coping habit to suppress awareness of your emotion, you may miss the important message lying beneath your boredom. In addition you may be inadvertently gaining weight, and developing a sense of helplessness about your ability to stop your eating behaviors.
What is Boredom?
Boredom is a complex emotion and an important signal that your life is not being lived to its fullest, most enjoyable expression. Boredom tells you that you have become weary of a life that has become dull, monotonous, repetitive, and routine. You are tired of living in a certain situation or with a certain way of thinking and acting. However, you also believe that you are stuck and unable to change things for yourself. Because you believe you cannot live or act differently, you begin to feel disinterested in your life, lethargic, and unfocused.
The Benefit of Boredom
There is good news! The reason you are feeling bored is because you are temporarily stuck between here and there. While it doesn't feel good to feel trapped and unable to move, the operative word is "temporarily" stuck. Inside you are ready to shed certain limiting beliefs about yourself and step into a fuller and larger life. You want to change and be more alive, but you also have certain beliefs that say you can't make that change happen. Therefore, boredom is the result of having your motor running while also having your foot on the brake. If you continue to remain in this situation, your inner conflict can escalate to much misery, including feelings of loneliness, emptiness, sadness, despair, or even depression. Over time, your desire to live life differently continues to increase, while your belief that you can't change grows in equal proportion. No wonder people turn to food!
Eating and Boredom
Eating can serve to distract you from your conflict and the ensuing boredom. Eating can perhaps ease the tension for a short period of time. However, no matter how much you eat or how often, the conflict inside you remains. A helpful perspective is to realize that your boredom indicates an important desire for personal growth into new ways of thinking, acting, and living. Boredom invites you to take a breath and delve a bit deeper to explore personal passions and desires. Eating to suppress your boredom only serves to put your life on hold.
Food is a Temporary Band-Aid
Certainly, food can bring moments of feeling good. For some it is a joyful sugar rush, or the comfortable numbness of an overly full belly. For others the calm comes when food triggers the release of the soothing brain chemical serotonin. Using food to alleviate an uncomfortable physical feeling is not a bad thing. Everyone wants to feel better, and no one is a bad person for turning to food to ease the discomfort of boredom. There is no reason to punish yourself for doing something pleasurable. What you might notice is that boredom eating does not make the actual boredom go away. At best, it creates a few moments of distraction, or some temporary relief. At worst, boredom eating leads to a soon unconscious, yet powerful repetitive habit of eating to feel better, and many unwanted pounds. What you need is not temporary distraction or numbness, but more authentically joyful alive moments! It is up to you to find or create joyful experiences that are even more rewarding, and more gratifying than eating.
The Pursuit of Joy
Food pushes down the emotions of boredom, and temporarily leaves you feeling better. However, what you need is not sedation but instead new challenges. Although change is risky, deep inside you want to be more alive than you are right now. Perhaps boredom is your way of showing yourself that you have outgrown your level of aliveness. Boredom is a signal you give yourself to allow greater joy, and greater aliveness. It may take some effort, but you can have a huge effect on how much joy you allow yourself to experience. The joy and aliveness you seek do not come from outside sources such as food or temporary entertainment, but from internally deciding to focus your energy on actions that support your own dreams.
Ending Boredom is a Process
Most likely, you won't overcome your boredom, or your boredom eating, in a single day. Instead, feeling more excited about being alive is a process that involves curiosity, introspection, and outward action. It may take some time to explore and discover what you find interesting. It might help to ask yourself, "What actions or desires do I want to focus my energy on?" Check inside and notice where personal interests lie. Perhaps creative activities such as writing, art, dance, a new career or business, helping people, getting involved in a sport, going back to school, learning, nature, socializing, or book clubs might sound interesting? Maybe there is a personal goal that has important meaning to you? Decide to write down a list of alternatives to boredom eating, a list of things you like to do. Carry this list with you, or tape it to your refrigerator. Decide to explore different directions, act on the decision, and take note of each success.
The next time you are bored and about to engage in boredom eating, stop for a moment. Realize that beneath your uncomfortable emotions you want more for yourself. You want to feel more alive and more joyful! Eating isn't going to help you achieve what you want. Your mission in life is to discover what brings you more passion, playfulness, and joy. Use the examples above and take one step into a more exciting life today!